The gods of noir recently presented me with an holiday gift: two compelling yet very different detective novels, both featuring haunted, flawed, aging crime-fighters named Harry, each in pursuit of a serial killer.
Jo Nesbo's Inspector Harry Hole is a ravaged mess, which is where Nesbo's previous novel, The Snowman, left him. At the start of The Leopard, we find Hole hiding away from the world, smoking opium in a squalid back-alley Hong Kong flophouse. But we know he won't stay there for long. In Michael Connelly's The Drop, Hieronymus "Harry" Bosch learns he's got three years left before his enforced retirement from the LAPD. (The book's title refers partly to the Deferred Retirement Option Plan.) While investigating open cases with the Open/Unsolved Unit, the apparent suicide of a councilman's son pulls him in a different direction.
It was a treat reading these two novels side by side. I found Nesbo to be the better "writer." His language is visceral and visual, and often eloquent. The Hong Kong scenes are full of gritty poetry; once Hole is back in Norway, the landscape is dark, snowy, vast and empty. Connelly's writing can feel more procedural, but his plot and pacing were more steady and compelling. He doesn't digress like Nesbo, keeping his foot on the gas throughout.
The storylines differ in tone but share some crime-thriller DNA (serial killers, corrupt cops). In The Leopard, a pretty young police officer drags Hole reluctantly back from Hong Kong to Norway, to pursue another killer, this one more twisted and vicious than the Snowman. The killer has brutally murdered two women with a sadistic (and, thankfully, fictional) torture device. When a female member of parliament is killed, Hole suspects a connection, and pursues the case even after he's warned to stop.
In The Drop, Bosch takes on two seemingly unrelated cases. The first is a botched DNA test from a 1989 rape and murder, which has been pinned on a man who was only eight years old at the time of the crime. Harry's pursuit of that case is interrupted when the councilman--a former police chief and no fan of Harry's--insists that Harry investigate his son's suspicious death. In pursuit of the truth, and an elusive killer, Bosch and his partner uncover secrets and a political conspiracy deep within the police department.
Connelly's aging hero is a flawed, haunted, and unforgettable character; his creator is a master craftsman. Despite some far-fetched scenes, Hole is damaged, soulful, and believable, and Nesbo is proving to be a major talent.
Spending time with these two Harrys made me wonder if they're both intended as homage to the original renegade detective, Clint Eastwood's "Dirty Harry" Callahan.